At the risk of sounding like one of those naughty ladies on the 'Grumpy Old Women' television shows, I would like to share my opinion that not only do 'they not make 'em like they used to'... but fruit and vegetables just don't taste as delicious as they once did either!
Forty to fifty years ago when I was a child, things like refrigerators and washing machines lasted for a couple of decades, at least. Indeed, some of those old Kelvinators and Frigidairs are still kicking around as retro collector's items. And fresh produce had the most remarkable texture and flavour, the likes of which is scarcely found nowadays. I can say this (safely) with ten years experience working on site at a fresh produce market on my résumé.
I was also fortunate enough to have spent my childhood playing in a back garden surrounded by a vegetable patch and flourishing orchard. Grapevines scrambled across a large metal arbor that stretched from our front gates to the entrance to my father's garage. Three more varieties were espaliered across a section of the back fence – only one of which I've been able to source for my own garden. A peach tree, a nectarine tree and two apricots thrived in full sunshine at the rear of the house. All of these were prolific producers, due to my father's tender management, methinks. Somehow he knew precisely how and when to graft, prune, nip and spray with white oil – skills handed down from previous generations, skills I fear we are slowly but surely losing.
The shorter of the two apricot trees grew in the very back corner of the garden, with the compost heap at its base. For some curious reason, which I cannot explain, our pet tortoise lived happily in amongst the lawn clippings there under that apricot tree. Though many decades have passed, I can still remember the smell of the little animal and the feel of it shell. But now back to the topic, apricots.
In the summer months, an old wooden ladder, splattered with paint, leaned against the side of our house, there for the sole purpose of enabling us to pick fruit from high reaching branches and vines. The plumpest, juiciest specimens seemed to be at the top of the trees and I would take great joy in scaling that ladder (and branches if need be) in order to graze, much to the delight of my parents.
This environment sparked in me a love of fresh produce – a legacy that has followed me throughout my life. From a humble back garden in a Canberra suburb, to the promotions office of a fresh food market, a radio segment, newspaper column, and now this little journal.
The apricots at my local Aldi supermarket have been surprisingly good this season, sumptuous and full of flavour, so I've been celebrating them in the best possible way. Eating them fresh from the hand, baking this beautiful Torta di albicocche con agrumato limone, and a fresh take on my mum's Nyári compote (summer preserve) of apricots. I've baked them, rather than poached them, and have added some cinnamon to the vanilla, to spice things up a little. These are superb with a creamy vanilla ice cream, and also sit well with my home made Greek-style yoghurt, or even sour cream.
Use fruit that is fresh and mature, just ripe, with no sign of disease or bruising.
BAKED APRICOT COMPOTE WITH CINNAMON AND VANILLA
2 tablespoons raw sugar or caster sugar
11/2 cups water
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 small cinnamon stick
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Wash the fruit, cut it into halves and discard the stones. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan, together with the scraped vanilla pod and the cinnamon stick. Gently bring it to a simmer (this should only take 5-10 minutes). Then remove the pan from the heat.
Meanwhile, arrange the apricots in a shallow baking dish. Pour the spiced syrup over the apricots, including the vanilla bean and the cinnamon. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the fruit is just tender. Remove from the oven and allow the fruit to cool before serving. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to fully develop. As a variation, replace the sugar syrup with some pure apple juice. Serves 6. (The fruit is also delicious puréed and served over ice cream or yoghurt).
Tell me dear readers, do you think fruit and vegetables taste as good today as they did in years past? And did you grow up in a garden full of fruit trees? Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment, I do love to hear from you! xox
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.